With the decisive step of the revolution in support of agrarian reform, the anti-neocolonial character of the revolution was defined (see “The defining moment of the Cuban Revolution” 9/24/2014). The revolution was now headed toward confrontation with the national bourgeoisie and the United States. This situation required replacement of some government ministers who were less than enthusiastic about the agrarian reform, and who, in the view of the eight “vanguard ministers,” were not developing their ministries in an effective and dynamic manner. On June 11 and 12, five ministers (State, Agriculture, Government, Health and Social Assistance, and Social Welfare) were replaced (Buch and Suarez 2009:117-21, 198-99).
The President of the Republic, Manuel Urrutia, was out of step with the radicalized Council of Ministers. The vanguard ministers had been unsatisfied with the conduct of the President from the beginning. He possessed what they considered an “absurd radicalism,” which expressed itself with respect to three issues. First, his refusal to conclude his taking of the oath of office with the phrase “so help me God,” thus provoking criticism of the revolution from religious groups, who mistakenly believed that the removal of the Supreme Being from the Cuban constitutional process was ordered by Fidel. Secondly, he was opposed to the granting of safe-conduct to hundreds of persons who had entered Latin American embassies seeking political asylum, thus provoking problems for the Cuban revolutionary government in its diplomatic relations with Latin American governments. Thirdly, he made public statements calling for a full and immediate suppression of gambling, in spite of the effects that such a measure would have on employment. Although an extreme radical on these matters, he was conservative or opportunistic concerning important issues, including agrarian reform. In addition, he invoked a clause of presidential exemption from the reduction in salaries for ministers, and thus received the same excessive salary as Batista. In conjunction with his pension as a retired judge, this enabled him to purchase a new house in an exclusive neighborhood. And, after the promulgation of the Agrarian Reform Law, he delayed in signing laws and measures that were approved by the Council of Ministers (Buch and Suarez 2009:66-67, 124-30, 141, 202, 205, & 216).
But the issue that provoked a governmental crisis was Urrutia’s anti-communist rhetoric. After the passage of the Agrarian Reform Law on May 17 (see “The Agrarian Reform Law of 1959” 9/23/2014), the phantom of communism was invoked by the United States and the counterrevolution, as we will discuss in the next post. In this context, anti-communist declarations by the President, expressing concerns for communist infiltration in the revolutionary government, were undermining the revolutionary process. Urrutia, for example, declared to the press, “I believe that the communists are doing terrible damage to Cuba, and I openly declare here that they want to create a second front in the revolution. Therefore, I always have said that I reject the support the communists, and I believe that true Cuban revolutionaries ought to reject it openly also” (quoted in Buch and Suárez 2009:210).
The anti-communist public declarations of Urrutia placed Fidel in a difficult position, inasmuch as Fidel was engaged in ideological battle with the maneuver of the communist phantom. As Prime Minister, Fidel was under the formal authority of the President; indeed, the Prime Minister was appointed by the President. On the other hand, with the real power that Fidel possessed, it would not have been difficult to have the President removed from office. But any such display of power would be viewed by the world as a coup d’état, yet another example of political intrigues and conflicts in Latin American politics. At the same time, if Fidel, as Prime Minister, had criticized the President publically, such criticism of a higher official would have been disloyal and not proper. In this situation, Fidel on July 16 submitted his resignation from the position of Prime Minister. He explained his reasons to the people in a television address on the evening of July 17, describing his disagreements with the president with respect to the issues noted above, and giving particular emphasis to the anti-communist public statements of the President. The reaction of the people was overwhelming: the President should resign, and the Council of Ministers should not accept Fidel’s resignation. In the face of this public reaction, Urrutia immediately resigned, and the Council of Ministers quickly named Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado as President. Prior to his television statement, Fidel had communicated secretly to three Council members that, if Urrutia resigns, Dorticós should be named to take his place as president (Buch and Suarez 2009:124-46, 201-19).
Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, at the time of his call to serve as President, was a member of the Council of Ministers, holding the position of Minister in Charge of Review and Study of Revolutionary Laws. A lawyer by profession, he was responsible for ensuring the legal validity of the new laws and measures proposed by the ministers. He had been born in a middle class family in the city of Cienfuegos. His father was a well-known surgeon, and his mother was a teacher. He attended private Catholic schools in Cienfuegos and Santa Clara, and he later studied law at the University of Havana. He became a leader in the revolutionary student movement in Cienfuegos in the 1930s, but with the turn to representative democracy in the late 1930s and the subsequent emergence of the politics of corruption, his revolutionary hopes were dashed. He settled in to a career in law in Cienfuegos; he continued to read widely, but without political participation. He became a prestigious lawyer, respected for his studious nature and his well-developed knowledge of law and culture. With the attack on the Moncada military garrison on July 26, 1953, his submerged revolutionary fervor was awakened, and he began to read Marxist-Leninist works. Beginning at the end of 1956, he became actively involved in clandestine activities, and he became coordinator of Civic Resistance Movement in Cienfuegos in July 1957. Following the failure in April 1958 of the July 26 Movement (M-26/7) general strike (see “Unifying the Cuban revolutionary process” 9/17/2014), Dorticós was named coordinator of the M-26/7 in Cienfuegos. He was arrested and tortured in December 1958. The chief of the provincial military forces of Batista negotiated an agreement with M-26/7, in which Dorticós would be released, if he left the country. He was transported to Miami; denied entry by the US government, the M-26/7 arranged for his transport to Mexico, where he was granted political asylum. With the triumph of the Revolution a short time later, he immediately returned to Havana. He was named to the Council of Ministers on January 5 (Buch and Suarez 2009:221-42).
Upon assuming the office of president on July 17, Dorticós joined with the people in calling for Fidel to return to the position of Prime Minister. Fidel’s resignation never had been accepted by the Council, so technically he was still Prime Minister. But Fidel had made the resignation publically, and he was reluctant to return. The popular demand for Fidel’s return continued for days, including work stoppages and the suspension of the chiming of church bells. The popular call culminated in a mass act on July 26 in the José Martí Civic Plaza (today the Plaza of the Revolution), in which one million peasants arrived to defend the Agrarian Reform Law and support the revolution. During the act, speakers and the assembly repeatedly called for the return of Fidel to the government, including Dorticós, who declared, “the people order Fidel to comply with his duty.” Later in the act, Dorticós took the microphone from Raúl Castro in order to proclaim, “In the most emotional moment of my life, I am able to announce that today our companion Fidel, before our mandate, has agreed to return to the office of prime minister” (Buch and Suarez 2009:146-50, 244-55).
With the reincorporation of Fidel as Prime Minister, the designation of Osvaldo Dorticós as President, and the replacement of five conservative ministers with radicals, the Provisional Revolutionary Government was now prepared to push forward with the revolutionary transformation of the neocolonial order and to wage battle with the national and international forces that were mobilizing to defend that order.
Buch Rodríguez, Luis M. and Reinald Suárez Suárez. 2009. Gobierno Revolucionario Cubano: Primeros pasos. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
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